This second installment of Live Vibes looks at two very different gigs from a band which in its infancy, promised to take psychedelia kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Sadly though, somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd album, via the bright lights of an LA studio, The Black Angels took a strange u-turn, heading straight toward the 3 minute pop song.
European Tour 2011
Witnessing Alex Maas spending the majority of the set holed up behind a sound deck, tweaking his voice like a 90’s DJ spinning Cher records was a great departure from the band I’d grown to love since early 2007. It wasn’t a great surprise given the finely honed 3 minute pop song approach on recent 3rd album Phosphene Dream but seeing really is believing…
At the end of a high energy, funk injected set, Alex proclaimed ‘It took us a while to warm to you!’ and at this exact moment I looked down at my hand, wishing it had morphed into a giant megaphone so I could holler back ‘We didn’t get Phosphene Dream!?’. It hadn’t, so the best I could hope was that this reality was being played out somewhere in a parallel universe – or better still, that producer Dave Sardy had been sacked off – averting altogether the recent bastardization of the Angels signature sound.
If the attraction of this new breed of Angel headed hipster was what Alex was referring to, maybe they’ll return to a home based studio again in Austin, TX – wind up the old organ, deer-ree-tune the guitars & offer up some of the drone ‘n’ roll that captured the spirit of the band, the imagination of the fans & the frenzy which greeted them in Europe during the Spring Tour of 2008. The magic is missing & I don’t think they believed it like they used to either.
European Tour 2008
Surrounded by a trippy, psychedelic light show – The Black Angels had their live act honed to perfection. More family than friends, more collective than individual band members, every one of them seemed at ease swapping instruments for different songs throughout their set & as the tribal drumming of Snake In The Grass began to reverberate around the walls of the modestly sized cinema room, every one of us knew we were in the presence of legends.
The sloping floor beckoned the crowd forward, hypnotized by the repetitive beats & swirling lights. The crowd were in love, the band were in love, this was our summer of love. Welcome to the 3rd wave of Psycedelia…
The Past, The Present and The Future?
So, what’s next for The Black Angels? Musically and sonically, it’ll be interesting to see how they evolve. But for The Black Angels it’s not always about them and their music. They’re a huge part of a global and local psychedelic music and arts scene – being the curators of one helluva festival back in their hometown Austin, TX through the Reverberation Appreciation Society. Guitarist Christian Bland is also a very talented graphic artist and screenprinter and member of The UFO Club with Lee Blackwell of Night Beats. Maybe the Angels were destined to be sceners rather than a band of musical leaders?
The Black Angels have also spawned a number of side-project bands over the years, Christian Bland and the Revelators being the most notable. Alex has also released music under the name Sweet Tea with Erika Wennerstrom (Heartless Bastards) but for me, the magic lay in The Black Angels raw-state, demo-driving jam ensemble The Viet Minh. Comprising of guitarist Christian Bland and vocalist Alex Maas, it was the proving ground for future Angels tracks. A few years ago, the very first version of what has now become Haunting at 1300 McKinley surfaced on Myspace. Simply titled Haunting at 1300, it’s a moment in time when The Black Angels were at the peak of their creative musical powers.